Southbank will be a National Arts Hub
By Josh Burns
Federal MP for Macnamara
In the three years since I was first elected as the federal member for Macnamara, Southbank has continued to be one of the fastest growing and most dynamic parts of our electorate. It is also entrenching itself as Victoria’s arts hub, and this is great news for our area and our state.
Thanks to the vision of past Victorian Premiers, notably Sir Henry Bolte and Sir Rupert Hamer, we have the National Gallery of Victoria (the most visited art gallery in Australia), and the Arts Centre Melbourne (the busiest performing arts centre in Australia), which includes the State Theatre, the Playbox Theatre, the Australian Ballet House and Hamer Hall. Since 1973 the Victorian College of the Arts has been located next to the National Gallery.
Today, the Southbank area is home to more than 30 arts attractions, venues and organisations, and approximately three million people visit these venues every year. Quite apart from their cultural value to the whole city and state, these venues sustain hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs in the Southbank area, which is one reason why it is attracting so many new residents.
After an almost total shutdown during the COVID pandemic, the Southbank arts scene is now recovering, and is generating new business and new jobs for our local community.
This great project requires co-operation between federal, state and local governments. We have been fortunate in having Martin Foley as our state member for Albert Park since 2007. Martin was Minister for Creative Industries from 2014 to 2020 and has been a powerful advocate both for the Southbank area and the Melbourne Arts Precinct.
Martin is retiring at the state election in November. His successor as the Labor candidate is Nina Taylor, who has been a member of the Legislative Council for our area since 2018. Nina is a Southbank local, who has been a strong supporter of the Arts Precinct project and I’m sure that as Member for Albert Park she will continue Martin’s advocacy for the Southbank community.
At the federal level, the previous Coalition government cut funding to the arts in successive budgets over its nine years in office. While prestige flagship companies like Opera Australia were shielded, the brunt of these cuts fell on smaller community arts organisations, as well as on the ABC. These cuts directly impacted many of the arts organisations based in Southbank.
This was extremely short-sighted. Before COVID struck, the arts sector contributed around $50 billion to Australia’s GDP, more than returning the taxpayer’s investment in the sector. It is in Australia’s economic interest to help the arts sector recover from the COVID shutdown as quickly as possible. But not only did the Coalition government cut spending on the arts, they failed to develop a national cultural policy to support the recovery of the sector, and to increase its cultural and economic impact.
Since May we have had a new federal Arts Minister, Tony Burke, who has been a consistent advocate of a national arts policy.
We cannot expect miracles overnight. Given Australia’s budget circumstances, it will not be possible to restore immediately the levels of funding which existed before the Coalition government’s cuts.
But it will be possible to develop a coherent national arts policy, with a federal government that works closely with the states and with the arts community to make the most of Australia’s rich cultural resources and repair some of the damage caused by COVID and by nine years of neglect.
At the heart of that grand enterprise will be the Melbourne Arts Precinct, with Southbank at its heart. •